I spent many days every summer at the lake. When we weren't fishing or in the woods we would sometimes take a ride into Fredericktown. Not my hometown but I feel connected to it more than any other Missouri town. Now that I've moved to the lake I'm making new memories that blur and blend with those of my childhood. This past spring I went back to the Dairy Bar and had a vanilla cone, the first I'd had from that place in more than 20 years and it was delicious. Each trip into town reminds me of my grandpa and our trips into town together. I can still hear his voice and picture him waving to the many people he seemed to know.
It's strange, though I did not grow up here, did not go to school here or spend most of my time here, this town is the constant. Other towns or cities have come and gone at different times, but not this one. This is the town that I've known my whole life. I see no reason that I would leave my cabin on the lake. For the first time in my life I feel at home and so I hope that I'll begin to develop a deeper connection to this town that lives so strongly in my memories. As I connect to the town and its people today I look forward to learning more about its history which I imagine to be very interesting.
This past summer I made quite a few treks into town and not just for the vanilla ice cream cones. Jimmy Thal's hardware store is the best hardware store I've ever set foot in and the prices are great. The Madison County Farm Supply is my steady source of straw bales and staffed with very friendly folk. The locally owned "Town and Country" grocery store has everything I need outside of the other shops so I won't need to set foot in Wal-Mart. The little garden park just east of the town square is a great place to sit and eat the above mentioned ice cream. There are two farmers markets in town, one on Saturday morning and another on Tuesday evenings.
This past fall I discovered Cowboy Coffee which quickly became one of my all time favorite coffee shops. The folks working there are very friendly as are the customers that visit. Thus far I've only bought coffee and brownies, both are very good. I don't usually eat out so I've not tried any of the food though the pies sitting on the counter tempt me every time I visit. It's a very comfortable place, decorated with bits of history, photographs and crafts along the walls. Sitting on the counter in the coffee shop I discovered a new community newspaper, The Madison County Crier.
After a few trips into the coffee shop and reading through this little newspaper I realized that I'd found something I had not expected. In the newspaper I was finding articles about the importance of supporting (and growing) the local food system, recycling, and the details of the goings on in the town council as well as a calendar of local events. In the coffee shop I was seeing the familiar signs of community life and connection that I was a part of when I lived in Memphis. Lots of folk on a first name basis, a meeting of the board of the farmers market, even a few folks sharing an impromptu dance lesson. I can't help but think that locally owned coffee shops are, universally, community building blocks. They offer public space necessary for the development of the relationships that form the foundation of community and civic life.
I'm really just beginning to get a sense of this wonderful little town but I know that there is no place I'd rather be in times like these. A small town with locally supplied and supported farmers markets, thriving local businesses, an active citizenry, not to mention a pride and self-awareness of its history, is a great place to call home.